Monday, 12 November 2012

A Bird Does Not Sing Because It Has An Answer

A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song - Maya Anjelou.

Have you got a favourite song that seems to follow you around through life's ups and downs? Bringing you joy when everything's going just hunky dory? Bringing you a glimmer of hope when everything seems to have gone pear-shaped?

Music can soak up the colours, textures and flavours of your life and serve them up when you most need them in a form that touches you in the deepest places. A time machine, a magic carpet, a comfy old shoe, a poke in the ribs!

One of my earliest memories of a song is "Rock around the clock" by Bill Haley and the Comets. I associate this with my dad, who when I was a toddler, rigged up a makeshift swing for me in the doorway between living room and kitchen in our cottage near the little Yorkshire station where my dad worked as porter and shunter and my mum as ticket clerk when they met in the 1950s when this song was a hit.

It used to be playing on the old Dansette record player, smelling of hot static electric as dad pushed me on the swing, with me giggling and shouting him to go higher and higher! It was probably one of the first ways I learned to count. It became a part of who I am and I've loved it ever since.

Similarly at the other end of the decade, "Abergavenny" by Shannon (a pseudonym for Marty Wilde) was my favourite song in the hit parade in those endless sunny summers when my mum and dad and I would go on holiday to the Yorkshire coast, riding up through the Dales and Wolds, in our motor bike and sidecar.

To me the happy simple lyrics "Taking a trip up to Abergavenny/Hoping the weather is fine/If you should see a red dove flying free then you'll know she's mine" seemed to be all about the way I felt. Nothing literal. We never went to Abergavenny! Just making sense to my soul. Soaking up into the sponge of my childish consciousness and nestling there in a place of delight.

Overnight in January 1970, my dad had a series of severe strokes and those carefree sunny holiday summers came abruptly to a halt for ever. No more motor bike and sidecar. No more healthy, strong, playful daddy to scoop us up for a ride through the countryside, spontaneous and thankful.

Mystifying, crushing illness in the house day in day out. Spelling things out laboriously on my old blackboard I'd played with when little, so my dad could make us understand what he was trying to say. Commodes and drinking cups, pulleys and hoists and a huge hospital bed taking up the whole of the living room. Humiliations of poverty and life limiting, awkward sickness, suddenly the poor relation in the extended family and the child in the class with a daddy who couldn't come to parents' evening, speak clearly or walk without struggling and toppling over.

Now when I heard "Rock around the Clock" and "Abergavenny" it was their lyrics and harmonies, the feel and pace and pulse of them that carried me back to my happy place, reminded me of who my dad really was, still,  inside this stranger who lived with us now and seemed sometimes more of a child than I was as I grew.

Songs like these and many more from that era always make me smile, or take me back, or remind me how much joy and blessing there is in life, even when circumstances throw us into confusion.

Similarly in my teens and twenties, as a young Christian, one of the hymns that seemed to ring my bells was "In Heavenly Love Abiding" by Anna Letitia Waring. It always seemed to be somewhere in the service on days that meant a lot to me or my faith was strengthened by tragedies or triumphs.

When my mum bought me a new hymn book before I travelled to the other side of the world to work in Bolivia, she typed out the words of this hymn for me on her old typewriter with the "e"'s filled in with ink in the worn-away keypads. She stuck it in the front of the book and signed it with her love as I went away to face new challenges and dangers far from home:

-words by Anna Letitia Waring (1823-1910)
No change my heart shall fear;
And safe is such confiding,
For nothing changes here.
The storm may roar without me,
My heart may low be laid;
But God is round about me,
And can I be dismayed?

Wherever He may guide me,
No want shall turn me back;
My Shepherd is beside me,
And nothing can I lack.
His wisdom ever waketh,
His sight is never dim;
He knows the way He taketh,
And I will walk with Him.

Green pastures are before me,
Which yet I have not seen;
Bright skies will soon be o’er me,
Where darkest clouds have been.
My hope I cannot measure,
My path to life is free;
My Saviour has my treasure,
And He will walk with me.

Whenever a fresh situation arose through my life, as a teacher, as a mission partner, as an interpreter, as a dorm-mother, as a friend, as an archivist, as a worker in a care home, as a mentor, as a  Methodist minister, as me - this always helped to bring me back to the truth, for me, that while ever I can walk thankfully and humbly in the compassionate way of God that gives me hope and a future, nothing on earth should make me afraid. Of course, you will have your own songs that are special and your own beliefs, whatever they may be, your own truths you choose to hold on to, to sustain you or strengthen you or help you move forward or pause for a moment.

We don't often sing songs these days that revert to the "thees" and "thous" and the verbs with their "-eths" and archaic endings that were written, like this one,  in the Victorian era. I hadn't heard it for a long time, I realised yesterday, when a visiting preacher chose it as part of a very moving and challenging Remembrance Day worship service in my local Methodist church. 

I found my eyes stinging with tears as we sang. It brought up so many memories and raw feelings. My heart ached to remember how the words used to speak to me of being able to go forward to stand alongside people all over the country, all over the world, in impossibly difficult and sensitive situations. Days when my life was filled with hurdles and bridges, transformations and movement. My throat tightened with grief as I sang the lines that have meant so much to me: My hope I cannot measure, my path to life is free.

Since I've been invalided out and wounded in action, my path to life doesn't always feel so free as it did. I realised a new truth. It's often even harder to face periods of life when you are laid aside from 'doing' and 'activity' and 'pioneering' and 'planting' by chronic illness and all the loss of confidence and direction that can bring. Harder than the hardest of the things you can face when obviously punching above your weight, doing new things, meeting new situations without a safety net but pumped full of adrenalin and purpose.

The still small voice hasn't suddenly tuned out to another channel :

My hope I cannot measure,
My path to life is free,
My Saviour has my treasure,
And He will walk with me.

He's there for me when walking is lying flat on my back. He's there for me when my path to life seems stalled and stagnant.

Wherever he may guide me,
No want shall turn me back.

Slowly, even after all these years, I am still taking baby steps in learning that He is still guiding, even in chronic disabling illness when I feel I've somehow stumbled unwillingly up a blind alley to a dead end. No end can be a dead end with my living, loving Lord! No want (or nausea, agony, weakness, autonomic dysfunction, postural orthostatic tachycardia, sickening exhaustion, twitchy muscles, ringing ears, blurry vision or brainfog!) shall turn me back! 

Each year, as Methodist Christians we remind ourselves in the Covenant Service:

I am no longer my own but yours.   Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing,
   put me to suffering (i.e. enduring);
let me be employed for you
   or laid aside for you,
exalted for you
   or brought low for you;
let me be full,
   let me be empty,
let me have all things,
   let me have nothing;
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
Glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
So be it.
And this covenant now made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.

Being "laid aside for you" "empty" or "brought low" isn't a rose garden for any active lass! But it's something we don't need to face alone or fight against as if it's some hideous mistake. There are many of us in this boat, Christians, non-Christians, extraverts and introverts, gay and straight, young and the elderly young-at-heart brigade, people of all faiths or none. Life happens. In every shade of the rainbow.
The song goes on.
I may lose my voice from time to time, but I never will stop singing!

Some days there won't be a song in your heart. Sing anyway - Emory Austin


  1. Lovely really really lovely x x

  2. One of the most beautiful blog posts I've read. X

  3. This is so moving and beautiful! Thank you, Joyce, for reminding us of the power of words to soothe and heal through song. May God bless you with renewed hope, energy and strength to endure, my friend. :) xx